Keith Haring: The Political Line
Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990) is known worldwide through his graffiti-inspired drawings, paintings, sculptures, murals, and even merchandise. While his visual iconography has become part of the popular culture, his profound commitment to social justice has been less recognized. Keith Haring: The Political Line offers fresh examinations of Haring’s work through a political lens, lending deeper insights into one of the most prodigious artists of the late twentieth century.
Haring began his career in the early 1980s by making collages and cartoonlike drawings, many of which he posted in public spaces. His vivid vocabulary of handdrawn symbols, such as zapping spaceships and barking dogs, raised provocative contemporary issues and spoke to both his generation and those that followed. In his work, Haring unapologetically denounced racism, capitalism, homophobia, dictatorship, atomic war, environmental degradation, and the excesses of technology and mass media. He also cared greatly about children’s well being, the fight against drug addiction, and bringing an end to the AIDS epidemic.
Keith Haring: The Political Line, published on the occasion of a major exhibition at the de Young in San Francisco and produced in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation, explores the artist’s engagement with politics, the urban landscape, the art world, and pop culture. Featuring reproductions of more than two hundred works of art, an opening photo gallery by Haring’s friend and photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, four essays expanding upon the political aspects of Haring’s art, and conversations with those close to the artist, this catalogue provides intimate and broad views into Keith Haring’s life, work, and political convictions.
Keith Haring had a brief but blazing life. Although exuberant and indefatigable by nature, he succumbed to AIDS before the age of thirty-two, but in a short career that spanned little more than a decade he produced a voluminous, pulsating body of work. The act of art-making allowed Haring to formulate a visual universe that gave meaning to his emotional life. He strove to approximate the philosophical breadth and relentless, all-embracing energy of Walt Whitman’s verse as well as the poet’s ideas about personal freedom and the example of fully developing one’s potential with an attitude of emotional openness.
Art was Haring’s safety net and the place where he could articulate some of his most passionate beliefs and intimate feelings. Fluent in a variety of media, particularly drawing and painting, Haring’s art was direct and often confrontational. He wanted it to be relevant to everyday life, and hewn from it. He was acutely aware of being among a new generation of Americans, and was inextricably linked to the times in which he lived. Shaped by the radical politics of the 1960s and the horrors of the Vietnam War, Haring had an uncomfortable relationship to the politics of Reagan-era America. He was inherently suspicious of organized power, religion, and political structures and perceived them as oppressors to his quest for personal freedom. He saw the role of the artist as antagonist, as provocateur, with a responsibility to speak out against inequity and injustice. Haring was absolute in his desire for his work and its message to reach as wide an audience as possible.